SALT LAKE CITY — Another Salt Lake Olympic bid just got a lot more likely with Monday's announcement that Utah leaders, including Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, are forming an exploratory committee.
"It's a very big step," said Fraser Bullock, who will serve as one of three co-chairmen of the new committee, along with Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Utah Sports Commission President and CEO Jeff Robbins.
Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, said the committee's goal is to decide by Feb. 1 whether to bid for the 2026 or the 2030 Winter Games.
The U.S. Olympic Committee, which announced last week it was ready to move forward on a Winter Games bid, has until March 31, 2018, to put forward an American candidate.
In 2019, the International Olympic Committee will choose the site of the 2026 and possibly the 2030 Winter Games. Innsbruck, Austria, the leading contender for the 2026 Games, just dropped out after voters rejected a bid in a referendum.
Salt Lake City had been looking primarily at the 2030 Winter Games, Bullock said, but that changed after the Austrian referendum, combined with the Swiss government postponing backing a Sion bid.
And the IOC recently broke precedent by awarding two Summer Games at the same time, with 2024 going to Paris and 2028, to Los Angeles, the first Olympics in the United States since Salt Lake.
"We need to be open to all options at this point," Bullock said.
Robbins said he's not going to be picky about when the Olympics come back to Utah.
"I'll tell you, if we could get 2026, I'd be thrilled. If we could get 2030, I'd be thrilled," the sports commission boss said. "So we're not choosy."
Other Utah leaders involved in the effort also expressed enthusiasm for another bid.
"We see this as the right time to explore the possibility of hosting the world again," the governor said in a statement, citing the "very high standard for hosting the Olympic Winter Games" set by Salt Lake in 2002.
Biskupski said Salt Lake "is a proud member of the Olympic family" and that the city is "eager to explore any opportunity that should present itself to host the Games again."
Niederhauser, R-Sandy, was upbeat about Salt Lake's chances of hosting another Games.
"Keep your fingers crossed," the Senate president said. "I think we might be getting the Olympics again. It could be as soon as 2026."
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, also a member of the exploratory committee, said "it's hard to think about future Olympic Games and not have our city in the mix as well."
The heads of two national winter sports organizations based in Salt Lake City will serve as the committee's vice chairmen, U.S. Speedskating President Mike Plant and U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Chairman Dexter Paine.
"That should be a very big signal to everybody," Bullock said of their participation. Salt Lake faces competition from Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area for the U.S. host city nomination.
Salt Lake has the advantage, Bullock said, because the IOC "is very focused on utilizing host cities where existing venues are in place. This allows more financial responsiblity in hosting the Games. It reduces the risk."
But there are concerns about the financial impact of a 2026 Winter Games in the U.S. on the L.A. Games, since they would be partners in seeking sponsorships and there may not be enough domestic dollars to go around.
"We are 100 percent supportive of them," Bullock said of Los Angeles. "We want to help ensure their success."
That could mean cutting back the budget for another Salt Lake Games, he said, from the nearly $1.7 billion estimate made by a previous Olympic exploratory committee in 2012 for a possible 2022 Winter Games bid.
It's about $400 million more than the Salt Lake Organizing Committee budget for 2002, Bullock said, noting federal spending on security helped push the final price tag above $2 billion.
The 2012 exploratory committee's report, finished shortly after the USOC decided to focus on bidding for Summer Games, also pegged the cost of an Olympic bid at between $25 million and $30 million.
That, too, can be reduced, Bullock said, maybe to as low as $10 million.
"It might be crazy, but it would be nice to see if once again we can help the Olympic movement reduce costs and spending and excesses to deliver something great at a much more effective price," he said.
The privately funded exploratory committee will look at the financial issues surrounding another Olympics in Utah, including the impact on the Los Angeles Games, as part of its report.
The findings will be submitted to the governor, the Salt Lake City mayor and the Legislature for a final decision about another bid.
Bullock said Utahns should be excited.
"Everybody I've talked to here in Utah absolutely loved having the Games," he said, adding that the chance to "welcome the world once again with our remarkable citizenry is a unique opportunity for us. I look forward, before I get too old, to helping in that effort."